Monday, March 30, 2015

Reading Books by Women

Two years ago I read an article that infuriated me about how books by women are demeaned, discounted, and of course less reviewed (see VIDA). I've always read books by men and women equally, without even trying. But I heard about people who were planning to spend a year reading only books by women. I found that notion intriguing and toyed with it. Eventually I was convinced that was just as reductive and biased as the reverse, but I did make an effort to read a lot more books by women than I normally did in 2014. Last year, more than 2/3 of the books I read were by women (57 women to 28 men). This year in March (Women's History Month), I only read books by women. As March draws to a close, I thought I should reflect if either of these had made any real difference to me, and the honest answer is no.

That answer might be dismaying to some, but I think it should be the opposite. Books by men and women aren't so different. I read widely, I read critically, I read discerningly. One interesting thing is that I usually also read 50/50 fiction/nonfiction, and last year I read a lot more nonfiction (45 compared to 37) which flips the stereotype of women writing novels and men writing history and other nonfiction.

Back when I worked at a bookstore after college, I noticed that men who asked for recommendations often wouldn't read books written by women (at least if they knew it was. Ever wonder why authors like J.K. Rowling go by initials? So males won't put her book down like they would if they saw "Joanne" on the cover. I love the scene in the movie of The Jane Austen Book Club where Grigg, the one male book club member, explains that most of his favorite "male" authors when he was growing up turned out to be women writing under male pseudonyms.) Women don't have this same problem. Partly it's because throughout school, 90% of what we read were books by men so we're well used to them. But men, you need to get over your fear of books by women. What's the worst that can happen? You won't enjoy it? Well then stop reading it and pick up another. I'm sure there have been some books by men you also haven't enjoyed, so that's no reason to write off half the population as writers. Best case scenario: you like the book, and actually get an inch closer to understanding women. Wouldn't that be a great thing?

One issue I do have now is that my personal stock of unread books is heavily skewed male since I've read so many books by women in the last year and the last month. But I'm sure I'll manage somehow.


Kristen said...

I've never actually stopped to count up the ratio for my reading. I'd guess mine skews towards women (especially when I go on romance binges). I just have trouble taking the time to quantify who I read, I guess (and that goes not only for sex but also for race or nationality or sexual orientation or what have you as well).

Kay said...

I find this very interesting. And agree that it shouldn't matter which - man or woman. Oh, and before I forget, I love that scene in The Jane Austin Book Club and I love that movie. One of the few that I think the movie is better than the book.

I read pretty heavily skewed toward woman writers. I don't intend to do that. It just happens. And I read probaby 60-70% mystery and thriller books. So, I'm not sure what happens, other than the fact that I like series books. When I have an author I like, I tend to read their new book. And I like a lot of series. I'll have to think on this.